Foster carers will probably be familiar with the term therapeutic parenting. This is a brief series where we take a general look at the subject. Anyone considering fostering should equip themselves with a basic understanding of what therapeutic foster care involves. The need for this approach arises due to the increasing number of children coming into care who have experienced trauma. Children who have experienced this, especially during the first three years of life, are insecurely attached because their most basic needs were not met. Attachment relates to the relationship bond between a child and their primary caregiver. It is during the early years that this crucial bond is formed. It has a big impact over the longer term on a child’s sense of self, his/her development, growth as well as future relationships with others. Without this bond, children will often suffer from emotional or behavioural difficulties. This will require a different type of foster parenting. It is one underpinned by therapeutic principles. During the years between 0 and 3 a child’s brain is still forming and if it is neglected – its cries ignored when it is hungry as an example – a specific developmental pathway can be blocked. The same will happen if other behavioural cues are ignored. It is a mistake to think that therapeutic parenting is only for traumatised children who might have been adopted or be living with foster carers. Therapeutic techniques can also work for children who are securely attached. This can be because they might have been exposed to trauma in the womb. And this can be caused by a number of factors – usually, if the parent suffered trauma or was involved in substance misuse: drugs, alcohol or a combination of the two. The children of such parents can be born with high levels of cortisol. This means they are often on high alert and liable to be fractious.
Central to the idea of therapeutic fostering is for caregivers to all forms of behaviour are driven by the need to communicate. And for trauma experienced children, these are often rooted in fear. This means the response should be to a child’s emotional age, not its chronological age. And the caregiver should always employ empathy and connection to guide and influence behaviour.
PACE – an acronym standing for a methodology based on the way parents interact with very young children – can be particularly effective. The main aim of PACE is to create an environment enabling a child to safe and secure. When able to feel this, they can start to learn to trust.
Playfulness: a foster carer should aim to create an environment that is lighthearted and interesting when engaged in communicating with a child – such as telling a story.
Acceptance: a foster carer should demonstrate acceptance of a child’s feelings, thoughts, wishes, urges without evaluating or becoming judgemental.
Curiosity: a foster carer can demonstrate an understanding of a child’s behaviour. Curiosity is also helpful when it comes to teaching a child to understand their own behaviour.
Empathy: a foster carer should show their feelings of compassion and understanding of the emotions of a child that has become upset and distressed. Doing this in an active manner will help a child to feel they are understood. This reassures a child they will receive love, care, support and commitment.
This style of parenting can offer invaluable benefits to a child. As they feel increasingly safe and supported, they become open to new experiences and learning. They are more comfortable in accepting direction and guidance from a carer. This gives rise to the ability of a child to self-regulate, better understand their behaviours which enables them to form secure attachments. Once in place, the impact of childhood trauma can be minimised.
The benefits are significant and extremely valuable to children with behavioural and emotional problems. And this applies equally to their parents or foster carers. If successful, the therapeutic approach can lead to open communications resulting in more shared values and interests. In turn, this creates much stronger relationships based on trust and any conflicts to be more easily resolved.
The goal for parents and foster carers is to help children who have been traumatised to recover. To do this they need to be able to form secure attachments to others and build trust in adults. Foster carers must be ever mindful that such children have had an extremely difficult and disorienting start in life combining negative physiological and psychological effects. With knowledge comes understanding and context. These children have high levels of cortisol which is ten times more addictive than cocaine. This means a child is living in a highly charged state fluctuating between feelings of fight or flight. And to that extent, what can seem the worst of difficult and challenging behaviour becomes explicable.
In the next in the series, we will look at more of the dynamics involved in providing therapeutic care as well as strategies that can be employed to create solutions to problems.
If this piece interested you and you want to read more about therapeutic foster care, visit the page below which begins a series on the particular therapeutic care model used by Rainbow.
Why so many people decide to foster with Rainbow.
Foster carers enable children to grow up in safe, nurturing, and loving foster homes. It can be highly rewarding in so many different ways. But it can also be challenging which is why we support our foster carers with comprehensive fostering training as well as support around the clock. Training is ongoing and covers every aspect of fostering. Areas covered include but not restricted to Child Protection and Safeguarding; supporting Parent and Child foster placements; Record Keeping; Caring for a Sibling Group, First Aid, and Therapeutic Fostering.
The children we are supporting in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and parts of Hampshire are diverse and of all ages. Foster homes for teenagers, sibling groups, and children with complex needs are urgently needed in these locations. We also need foster homes for young mothers and their babies called Parent and Child fostering.
To foster with us, you will need to be over 21 and have a spare bedroom for a child or young person. What matters most is you have the interest and motivation to do your best for the child or young person you are caring for. Start your journey to becoming a fostering professional today by calling 0330 311 2845. You’ll be joining an agency rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted. Our foster carers come from all kinds of backgrounds and cultural traditions. Most people are eligible to foster. There is no upper age limit to becoming a carer. At Rainbow, our minimum age to apply to foster is 21.
We have provided a list of answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive about fostering from people interested in becoming carers. Hopefully, it will prove helpful and can be found at – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/
The importance of family conversations…
Finally, no two families are alike and that applies as much to fostering families. But there is something that they all need and that is conversation. This is important as family conversation promotes and reinforces a sense of family identity and connectedness. Every member can feel bonded: that they are accepted and belong – especially vital for the mental health and emotional development of young people.
Conversation depends on physical togetherness. There is research to show the actual words spoken account for 7% of interpersonal communication. What remains is conveyed by body language. There is a growing problem: we are all increasingly engaging with online devices so we have lost around 93% of our ability to connect with one another in a meaningful way. This disengagement is a threat to the kind of family life we all depend upon. Children and teenagers who come into foster care are already isolated and often traumatised. Their road to recovery depends on being part of a vibrant fostering household characterised by conversation and engagement.
At Rainbow, we strive to encourage foster families to think about the importance of communication – to ensure that conversation does not become a lost art. And our suggestion today for an interesting topic for older children – particularly apt as we mark #pride month and celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community – is: